Enlightenment and endarkenment
(Neil’s Note: This is the final part of my 8,300+-word monster essay on the subject of bottom up versus top down thinking.)
Thus far, I’ve presented bottom up and top down thinking as polar opposites. While this is indeed what they are, it’s also true that few people think either in a totally bottom up or a totally top down manner. Each individual tends, by his nature and training, to go one way rather than the other. Those trained in mathematics and science, for example, tend to exert the discipline to think bottom up; while those in “softer” disciplines, like politics or media studies, are far more likely to think top down.
Young children, as I noted earlier, start their lives learning, and so thinking, from the bottom up. And yet, many – too many – seem to reach a point of stagnation. Often, at quite an early stage in their lives, individuals’ mental development seems to stop. And they no longer learn, as they did when children, from the bottom up. Top down thinking seems to take over.
Why is this? I think it’s because they have caught a disease. I call this disease endarkenment. Top down thinking is a symptom of this social ailment. It’s a very serious malady; societies afflicted with it are likely to die, if it isn’t cured. I think of endarkenment as like a cancer – a cancer of the body politic, if you will. And I think of the top down thinkers, or endarkenmentalists, that carry and spread this disease – many of them in high positions in politics, government, academe and the media – as like cancer cells.
The analogy with cancer is, I think, a good one. For, just as cancer cells often don’t stop growing until the host dies, so the cancerous political state doesn’t stop growing until it has consumed its body politic. Just as cancer cells ignore messages sent to them by other cells, so do cancerous thinkers ignore what other people think or want. Just as cancer cells send out messages to other cells to confuse them into doing things against their and the host’s interests, so do cancerous thinkers spew out lies, scares and deceptions to confuse people into acting against their true interests. (They spew out lots of legislation to coerce people into acting against their interests, too). And, just as cancer cells fail to mature and grow up into roles useful to the host, so do most cancerous thinkers fail to grow up into productive, honest, useful members of society.
I’ll contrast this social cancer, which I call endarkenment and whose main symptom is top down thinking, with its opposite. At one level, that opposite is, as you would expect, enlightenment with a small e. Not only is this kind of enlightenment the consequence of bottom up thinking, but it also helps bottom up thinkers move towards further enlightenment.
At a higher level, though, the opposite of endarkenment is also capital-E Enlightenment. That is, a set of values associated with the historical Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries.
For, when I try to list the primary characteristics of bottom up thinking, I find myself coming up with many Enlightenment values; or, otherwise said, liberal values. For example: Reason and the pursuit of science. Toleration and a focus on the individual. The idea that society exists for the individual, not the individual for society. The idea that human beings are naturally good. Freedom of thought and action. Natural rights and human dignity. Government for the benefit of the governed. Moral equality and the rule of law. A desire for progress, and rational optimism for the future.
The primary characteristics of top down thinking, on the other hand, are very much opposed to these Enlightenment values. I’ll list a few: Superstition. Collectivism. Orthodoxy, dogma and political correctness. Lies, deceit and misdirection. Faux “equality.” Bad laws and injustices. War. The politicization of everything. State control over almost every aspect of our lives. Hypocrisy and double standards. A climate of alarm and much-ado-about-nothing. These are the things that top down thinkers like, and want to force on all of us. These are the non-values of endarkenment.
So, to conclude. It’s clear, to me at least, that endarkenment – a cancer-like social disease, that leads to top down thinking – is the root cause of the evils of our times. And that endarkenmentalists, those that promote top down thinking, are the cancer cells that carry and spread this malady.
It’s also clear to me what the cure for endarkenment must be. The cure is Enlightenment. That is, we human beings need to re-discover, dust off, re-polish and apply to today’s ills the best liberal values of our past. And to carry them forward into our future.